Friday, June 29, 2012
“Almost 200 singers from 70 nations are expected to participate in the festivals and it is an honour for me to represent Pakistan in such a big event,” Local Pakistani Urdu news paper Nai Baat reported.
“Pakistan is my identity and I will continue to bring fame to the country,” she added.
Sanam Marvi debuted at ‘Virsa Heritage’, a programme on PTV. She became popular after her performance at Coke Studio, a Pakistani television series featuring live music performances. She has since appeared in two seasons of the Coke studio.
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Sunday 3 Jun 2012
As he celebrates the release of his first photography book, Egyptian photographer Amr Fekry describes himself as a traditional and non-traditional artist who hopes to connect with the beauties of the ancient world and share these experiences with the public.
After graduating from the Cairo University faculty of arts in 2001, Fekry spent a year searching for true beauty, and during this time he found Sufism, which has become an essential part of his identity and a major feature of his work.
Sufism is the essence of Islam. Sufis are often known as the dervishes or the people of the truth whose spirituality, modisty and refraining from materiallism inorder to purify their souls in search of the utmost truth, have and continues to attract millions of followers.
"Through Sufism I realised my true senses and intellect," he says. "I acknowledged the true language of religion, unlike the traditional sense of religion we are exposed to from childhood. I rediscovered I had some spiritual talents as well," he explains.
He admires Islamic architecture, especially mosques built in the Fatimid era inspired by Sufi numerology and shapes.
"I kept taking photos of such buildings and my belief grew," he smiles as he recalls his journey of self-discovery. Fekry held several photo exhibitions of the Turkish Dervishes where he encouperated Sufi poetry in his composition.
"I tend to question the true relationship between the creator and the created, which is based on love rather than fear of punishment or pursuit of reward," Fekry states.
According to Fekry, Sufism has no boundaries and no limitations. "I use figurines as many Sufi artists and architects did in the past. Figures of people and animals tend to build belief in God and strengthen it as well. This was seen in Egypt during the Fatimid era, for example," he says.
Fekry admires ancient Egypt and he has also applied this in his art. "In art, I am inspired by ancient Egyptian art," he says.
"Sufism introduces interaction between one's self by speaking to the human brain," he says.
Its ideas and teachings are witnessed in our daily life and tend to change by the hour and produce something different and exciting each day, according to Fekry.
Learning a different lesson each day brings a new colour, and pattern to our daily living, says Fekry and it is this concept that shapes or identifies his art.
"I spent five years of my life delving into nature and taking photographs of the world around me before I started making art and exhibiting my work," he tells Ahram Online.
He also visited galleries to see modern art but could not relate to what he saw.
"I always felt that it didn't reflect Egyptian society… Yes I have seen new concepts, techniques, and taken inspiration, but I've never found it reflecting on the regular Egyptian or addressing him," he says, and that is why he found Sufism and his own version of Islamic art that relates to the Egyptian identity.
Being a Sufi has given Fekry another characteristic as well. He initially works for himself without any intention of exhibiting his work. "To produce art, I target myself first," he says.
Instead of having deadlines and exhibition dates and schedules, "I wander around in search of beauty and more natural interactions that inspire me," he explains.
Fekry holds frequent exhibitions but without boundaries. "I keep exhibiting what I want, when I want," he tells Ahram Online.
It is the method he finds best to critically value his art and later on publically display what he believes worthy. "Not all of my work has been exhibited, but all that matters is that I am pleased with what I do," he comments.
In 2004, Fekry completed his graduate studies in Zurich, where he devoted himself to finding himself and acknowledging his space and surroundings. "Zurich is very systematic and financial and it's where I discovered my own space," he states.
He translated his experience into Holy of Holies, a book about his art using his Sufi methods. "The first part of the book is somewhat inspired by my experience in Zurich in which I translate my own time and space in this modern city into art," he recalls.
By looking at the changing daily patterns of life, he identifies patterns and the "holy architecture" of shapes and consequences of the ancient world. "I implemented the relationship of emotions, colours, images and the holy shapes," he explains.
Furthermore, in his Holy of Holies, Fekry reflects on quotes that describe Sufism and his art, including 'the relationship between seeing and sight', 'cover vs. uncover' and an 'artist's unity within place'.
Amr Fekry presents a one of a kind ideology in his art that reflects on his Egyptian identity with its Islamic, Coptic, and Ancient Egyptian background and sums it up in his 'Holy of Holies'.
Holy of Holies with be released on 9 June. Sufi Bookstore,12 Sayed Bakry, Zamalek
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Kazakh Public Religious Organization Declared Extremist
Kazakh authorities have announced that the "Faith. Knowledge. Life." educational organization has been officially defined as extremist.
The decision on June 7 by a regional court in eastern Kazakhstan was made public a day later by Kazakhstan's prosecutor-general.
The organization says it promotes Sufism -- a mystical interpretation of Islam -- and denies it has anything to do with any form of extremism.
The court ruled that the organization has to be closed down and any form of membership in it is considered a crime.
In October 2011, 10 leaders and activists of "Faith. Knowledge. Life." were sentenced to prison terms between two and 14 years by a court in Almaty.
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Music flows on: Pakistani band Raeth will soon make its Bollywood debut
Thankfully enough one aspect the oft-sparring neighbours India and Pakistan have never allowed to affect is the cultural exchange between the two countries. Musicians, poets, actors continue to cross over from one side to another for films, albums and concerts and entertain people to the hilt.
Raeth, a Pakistani Sufi Rock band, continues the tradition, set by the likes of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Junoon and the rest. The band makes its Bollywood debut with Marksheet, a film that caught the public attention before the release. “It's a film for the youth, based on the education scams in India and I was looking out for a voice that represents the youth and Raeth does it the best,” says Rakesh Ranjan Kumar, director of the film.
Raeth consists of three talented musicians — Wajhi Farouqui, lead vocalist, Hassan Farabi, guitarist and Sunny Ghansham, bass guitarist. Farabi, who is down with dengue, couldn't accompany his fellow musicians on this trip. Raeth released the first album in 2006 and since then the team members have not looked back. Songs such as Bhulado and Dur Jag Ka Tara had garnered success.
Inspired by the legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Wajhi wants to spread the message of Sufism that's love through his music. “Love has no boundaries. And it has got an attraction and here we are debuting in Bollywood. Indian audience has loved our music in the past and we hope that their support continues.”
“We are a band which makes music collectively, each one of us plays our part and every part is equally important. But how often you find that in giving music for a film only the playback is given importance but we are very thankful that while making music for Marksheet the director has allowed us to create our own sound, which is really very supportive,” expresses Sunny.
The lead vocalist of the band, Wajhi adds, “We are loved in India because we create music in their own language. I try to write meaningful songs so that we are also able to communicate and give a message with each song. Giving music in a movie is a big thing for us we are really very excited about it. Films increase your spectrum and take you to a much larger audience.”
Monazir Alam has written the script of the movie and has added a romantic angle to it as well which will help Raeth to bring some soul with their songs. The film will be released early next year.
Picture: Raeth musicians Wajhi Farouqui, Hassan Farabi and Sunny Ghansham.
Monday, June 11, 2012
Book Review: Journey to the Egyptian Sufi desert. Abu-Khunayger visits the shrine of Sufi leader Abul-Hassan Al-Shazly and discovers a world of spirituality, love and common humanity deep in the Egyptian desert.
Fi Rehab Al-Saharaa (In the Bliss of the Desert) by Ahmed Abu-Khunayger, Cairo: General Organisation for Cultural Palaces, 2012. 160pp.
It’s unusual for Egyptian novelists to venture into non-classified genres, and even less common for them to write about their own spiritual experiences with so much purity and depth.
Together with Abu-Khunayger’s other novels in his unique style, this latest book about the Sufi leader Abul-Hassan Al-Shazly adds to his experience as a writer.
Al-Shazly was born in the Hijri year 593, roamed around the Islamic cities of the east and west, fought the Crusaders, and when he felt near death, departed to the Egyptian desert and died there, buried now in the place he chose.
After his death, his followers started an annual festival celebrating him in this remote location, and this festival is held annually just before Bayram.
Egyptian festivals of Christian and Muslim saints are important because they are the common thread for farmers throughout Egypt, and are an important economic component in the livelihoods of many people, especially for the major holy men like Al-Sayed Al-Badawy, Al-Sayeda Zeinab, Ibrahim Al-Desuki and for Christians, Saint Demyna and Saint Mary, which are attended by both Christians and Muslims. They’re mostly linked with the crop cycle and are a significant element in the process of buying and selling goods.
However, Al-Shazly is a special case, being situated in the middle of the desert, unreachable except by driving hundreds of miles on unpaved roads among the mountains and valleys, with his admirers making the difficult trip once a year.
Abul-Khunayger lives in Upper Egypt, and makes the trip every year. His testimony is the result of many trips, but most importantly, it’s not the result of a prior judgment or biased point of view, but rather the result of watching, learning, asking and facing the world that is miraculous in nature. Millions of Egyptians believe in this world and come faithfully and dutifully for the trip, both Muslims and Christians.
Al-Shazly’s festival is full of life and joy; thousands come together, and the common factor is love for Al-Shazly, and willingness to serve others: eating, drinking, celebrating.
Outside the shrine, some people sat down to become part of the general crowd that never ends across the whole area. One woman sat there combing her hair and adding touches of eyeliner, blush and lipstick in front of everyone. A barber was shaving a man while others waited their turn. Some were drinking tea in a little corner, and sitting on the rocks or a small mat. Booksellers, perfume sellers and herb sellers were next to stands selling cheap toys and books and pictures about saints, but the majority were beggars.
Most interestingly, Abu-Khunayger doesn’t act like a tourist who is amazed by what he sees, but rather he keeps a high degree of honesty, not acting like a ‘dervish’ involved emotionally with what he sees.
He tells of a dance during the Zikr (Sufi ritual of whirling or dancing), where the large, long-haired dancer was holding long nails in his hands and dancing on his toes with ecstasy and lightness, making Abu-Khunayger wonder how such a huge body could be so agile and light. He would stick the nails in the bodies of audience members and dancers and bring it out without a drop of blood or a scream of pain. During the sword dance, visitors, some of them children, sleepwalk over them without pain or a scar.
The masses act like a huge family, sharing whatever they have, serving and volunteering to help each other, preparing food and drink for everyone. A man could be a university professor, a rich businessman or a retired general, but at the festival of Al-Shazly, he’s a servant for the admirers of the holy man and for those who made the trip to pay him their respect.
Sunday, June 10, 2012
Central University to offer courses on Sufism, Mysticism
Bangalore: The Central University of Karnataka (CUK), Gulbarga, has planned a centre for the study of mysticism and sufism to study the birth, evolution, and spread of the two denominations, and bring out publications on them.
The varsity thought of such a centre as the Hyderabad-Karnataka region has produced many mystic and Sufi figures. Few scholars of the region, however, have chosen to study and research the two denominations, according to S. Chandrashekar, Pro Vice-Chancellor of the varsity.
“It’s mostly the Western scholars who have carried out research on these two religious denominations. There has been little work by the local people,” Chandrashekar told reporters after the first convocation of the university here on Saturday.
As part of the research, the centre will carry out extension work such as field visits to gather data that would be analysed and published later. Chandrashekar said that the varsity had already conducted a national seminar on the subject.
A. M. Pathan, Vice-Chancellor, CUK, said that the proposal for the centre had already been sent to the University Grants Commission (UGC). A response was expected by September-October, Chandrashekar said. The university also plans centres for the study of the lives of eminent personalities.
Kannada litterateur U. R. Ananthamurthy and Chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) Nandan Nilekani were conferred with honorary doctorates on the occasion.
The CUK would move to its new campus spread over 650 acres on Aland Road, 30 kilometres from Gulbarga, this August. At present, the varsity works out of a building rented by Gulbarga University. Three academic blocks are being built on the new campus. To begin with, the varsity would start courses in Advanced Science. Basic Ccience courses would commence later, Prof. Pathan said.
The Vice-Chancellor admitted that the university had not been successful in attracting the best of talent. For example, the university’s five-year integrated courses in arts and science have few takers. “It’s primarily the lack of awareness among the people. They still prefer the conventional degrees,” he explained.
The university has proposed several initiatives to attract students. For instance, the entire course and hostel facility are free for girls, irrespective of their caste or community. They just have to pay for food and other miscellaneous charges. Nearly 40 per cent of the posts of teachers (mainly mid- and high-level) in the university are vacant, Pathan said in response to a query.
The Central University Website.
[Picture: Location of Karnataka in India. Photo: Wiki.]
Friday, June 08, 2012
Concern Over Safety of Malian World Heritage Sites
UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, as part of the 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, is dedicated to the protection of “certain places on Earth that are of outstanding universal value and…form part of the common heritage of mankind."
As such, it has recently expressed concern over the safety of the sixteen UNESCO designated World Heritage sites in Timbuktu, Mali.
This part of West Africa is rich in important buildings and artifacts including more than 100 000 historical manuscripts which cover a variety of different subjects. The historical significance and the sensitivity of the conservation of these artifacts have been addressed by the Timbuktu Educational Foundation. The NGO, which is committed to protecting the manuscripts, has referred to them as "part of the intellectual heritage of West Africa."
The organization cites the manuscripts as important proof of the advanced intellectual and cultural status of the city of Timbuktu, and as important evidence of African and Islamic thought and intellectual contributions to the world.
In early May the Director General of UNESCO issued a statement appealing to all parties in Mali to respect the country’s cultural artifacts. Particular apprehension was expressed over the possibility of the illegal trade of important artifacts and manuscripts. Preventing the illicit trade of cultural artifacts has formed a central part of UNESCO’s mandate since the 1970 Convention for the Fight Against the Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Property.
Current political context
The reason for the perceived threat to Malian cultural heritage is related to the political unrest that has plagued northern Mali since January 2012.
At present, this region of Mali is under the control of Tuareg separatist movement, the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA), the Al-Qaida Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and an Islamist group called Ansar Dine. Though the extent of the connections between these groups is unclear, they have been cooperatively engaged in opposition to the central Malian government.
The Tuaregs, an ethnic group who inhabit the northern part of Mali, have had an historically testy, and at times, violent relationship with the Malian central government.
Since January 2012, a new Tuareg separatist movement, MNLA, supported by Tuareg fighters returning from the conflict in Libya, has been fighting for independence of the Northern territory. The group declared the north of Mali, a region called Azawad, an independent region on April 6, a move rejected by both the Malian government and the international community at large. Timbuktu is a part of this northern territory, and fell to the Tuareg fighters on April 1, 2012.
Consequently, Timbuktu, and by extension its historical sites and artifacts are now under the control of AQIM and Ansar Dine. Though separate from the MNLA, the two Islamist groups have been to some extent allied or friendly with the Tuareg separatist movement, and all fight in concert for military control of Northern Mali.
Furthermore, these events have contributed to political instability within the central Malian government. Due to discontent over the way in which the central Malian government has handled the rebellion, members of the military unlawfully deposed the President, Amadou Toumani Touré on March 22. The military has since handed control back to a civilian transitional government, but the turmoil has made resolving the rebellion in the North, as well as the status of Timbuktu and its World Heritage sites, more difficult.
On May 28 the MNLA and Ansar Dine announced that they had formed a coalition with the goal of establishing an independent state. Initially, the MNLA and Ansar Dine had different political projects – the MNLA fought for independence for the northern region, while Ansar Dine wanted to implement Sharia law in all of Mali.
Slate Afrique reports that a central component of the compromise struck between the two groups includes the acceptance by Ansar Dine of the autonomous nature of the northern region. Relatedly, MNLA has agreed that Islam will serve as the region’s official religion.
Competing accounts of an attack
Concerns over Mali’s cultural heritage were heightened on May 5, 2012 when there were reports of an attack on the World Heritage site, the mausoleum of Sidi Mahmoud Ben Amar, an ancient scholar who is considered a holy saint by many of the Sufi Muslims of Timbuktu. According to local religious belief, the mosques form a rampart that guards the city from any type of misfortune.
Since the alleged attack citizens have been prevented access to this important religious site.
Unfortunately, a complete and verifiable account of the events has yet to materialize. According to UNESCO, the front door of the mausoleum and its curtains were burned. International news source Agence France-Presse spoke with a local official who said, “Members of AQIM, supported by Ansar Dine, have destroyed the tomb of Saint Sidi (Mahmoud Ben) Amar. They set fire to the tomb. They promised to destroy other tombs, Timbuktu is in shock. Now they want to take and control of other tombs and manuscripts.”
The only response issued by the groups purported to be behind the attack was a statement made by Sanda Oul Bomama, a spokesperson for Ansar Dine. His account differed from the claims of the local official. In a statement to Al Jazeera he said “A new member of the Ansar Dine group came to Timbuktu and went to the tomb of Sidi Mahmoud Ben Amar on Friday to tell the faithful praying there that the saints should not be adored.” The spokesman did not reveal whether, or to what extent, Ansar Dine or the AQIM supported the man’s actions.
Both the AQIM and Ansar Dine subscribe to a Salafist reading of Islamic scripture and therefore view some of the practices of the local Sufi variant of Islam to be heretical. Specifically, they believe these practices run counter to the literal interpretation of Islamic scriptures and their strict religious values. Al Jazeera reports that though the Sufi believe that shrines are part of religious custom, Salafist groups contest that they constitute the sin of idolatry.
Following the attack, the Malian government issued a statement condemning the willful damage of the mausoleum, saying, "We have learned with indignation of the desecration of tombs perpetrated by lawless individuals. The government condemns in the strongest terms this unspeakable act in the name of Islam, a religion of tolerance and respect for human dignity." No further damage to artifacts or World Heritage sites has been reported since.
Response of UNESCO and the Malian government
Timbuktu has been an important city in the Sahel region of Africa, experiencing a golden age between 1493-1591 under the Askia dynasty. Established as a seasonal camp, it later grew to become an intellectual and trading centre for the region. Its golden age was during its time under the Askia dynasty, from 1493-1591. Through its mosques and the University of Sankore, the city was an important centre of Islamic thought and culture.
Many of the World Heritage sites are important testaments to these periods in West African history. Three major mosques, some of the oldest in West Africa, from the 14th and 15th centuries, are still standing and recall the golden age of Timbuktu.
First, the Mosque of Djingareyber was built by the Sultan Kankan Moussa in 1325, with its a signature minaret that is the central landmark in the city.
The Mosque of Sankore was built afterward, between 1578 and 1582. Its design of mud walls over a wooden framework are said to be what allowed it to remain standing, as it facilitated repairs after the rainy seasons.
The final World Heritage mosque site in Timbuktu is the mosque of Sidi Yahia, which was built around 1400.
These, as well as sixteen mausoleums each of which play a role in local religious practices, have all been designated World Heritage sites by UNESCO. Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, stressed the importance of these monuments, stating “Timbuktu’s outstanding earthen architectural wonders that are the great mosques of Djingareyber, Sankore and Sidi Yahia, must be safeguarded. Along with the site’s sixteen cemeteries and mausolea, they are essential to the preservation of the identity of the people of Mali and of our universal heritage.”
From May 18-20, Lalla Aicha Ben Barka, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Africa, met with senior Malian government officials in order to develop a strategy to safeguard the structural integrity of the World Heritage sites in Mali. It outlines responsibilities for both the Malian government and UNESCO.
On March 24, Mali agreed to finalize its accession to the 1999 Second Protocol to the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. This will enable Mali to request increased protection from the international community for cultural artifacts deemed important to humanity. Additionally, Mali has said that it will appeal for the sites in Timbuktu and the Tomb of Askia be added to the list of the World Heritage in Danger.
Mali is also planning to draft a report on the measures of preservation of its World Heritage conventions, as well as submit a request to the international community for technical and international assistance.
UNESCO has agreed to present the World Heritage Committee, the branch of UNESCO concerned with the implementation of the World Heritage Convention of 1972, with a detailed report including measures needed for protection of the World Heritage sites in Mali. It intends to also help raise awareness of the issue of illicit trafficking of cultural artifacts in order to curtail such illegal activity.
Finally, the World Heritage Committee plans to work in conjunction with other humanitarian groups in order to further its aims in Mali.
Whether these actions will be sufficient in preserving Mali’s cultural heritage remains to be seen.
Picture: The Sankoré Mosque, one of Timbuktu's many World Heritage sites. Photo: MomLes.
Thursday, June 07, 2012
Poetry in Motion: Tanusree Shankar's ‘We The Living,' based on the translation of Sufi poet Jelaluddin Rumi's ‘Human Beings.'
Inspired by the Sufi poet Jelaluddin Rumi's ‘Human Beings', translated by Coleman Barks, conceived and choreographed by renowned dancer Tanusree Shankar, Ananda Shankar Centre for Performing Arts , Kolkata , presented an emotionally-charged lyrical dance, ‘We The Living,' at Kalamandir, Kolkata.
Tanusree, celebrated daughter-in-law of the great Master Uday Shankar, has not only continued the legacy of the ‘new age' dance with elan, but manages the rare feat of handling and integrating the intellectual and cultural thought convincingly with the ideologies of her artistic insight with skill.
Rumi spoke a universal language and so did Tanusree's offering through the vocabulary of movement and passionate music. And the relationship co-exists.
Rumi contemplates beings as having transcended cultural systems, religions and even elemental specificity; existing neither as body or soul but seeing the two as one. Tanusree's presentation celebrates what may be called the life force. She moulds her vision into a choreographic structure representing this force as evolving out of chaotic, amoebic shapelessness to attain a bodily form.
The performance opened with light forms, ethereal movements by a group of competent dancers in white, accompanied by the refrain of a bamboo flute and the subtlety of soft Arabian music (strings), that introduced a spiritual atmosphere –‘Ruhaniyat' in the true sense.
Sounds of ripples of water, tabla-theka and the alaap of ‘Pancha indriyas' ushered in the five senses beginning with ‘dristhti' and followed by the nine rasas (moods).
Tanusree uses a lot of geometric formations, intricate depiction of the text, her signature style, which does not function according to any identity structure, nor does she mix styles.
This production had something fresh to offer in terms of choreography and theme. Her approach evolved a distinct sensitive choreography with the use of mellifluous songs such as ‘Saurabhi Ranjita Ghranendriyam Sugandhi Bibhorita' and ‘Sparshey Shiharita Dibar Chetanam' underlining the theme of ‘Indriyas'. Use of piano at this point was so piercing and alive with the dances and symphony music, that even to the most casual viewer, her choreography would reveal her main ideas and the underlying nuances of Rumi's poetry.
Ballet steps, matched with mild jumps and movements on the floor, allowed the rasas to seep in with Shubha Mudgal's rich timbre, ‘Hum Hain Rayain Ke.' The choreography of the nava-rasa, unfolded the usual pattern of Tanusree's composition, punctuated by a number of friezes set to impressive music such as ‘Om Rabba Re Rabba.'
The last segment was a wealth of melodic and harmonic beauty, subtlety, exquisite workmanship and unerring sense of choreographic tradition with the emotion of the poem as a whole.
It was the portrayal of a devotee's intense search for God, only to realise that divinity lies within.
Tanusree's solo contribution at this juncture with a variety of steps in sequence emphasising Rumi's thinking, was the manifestation of virtuosity. Her trance-like rotation of the body, which the whirling dervishes produced, tearful appeal to God that culminated in the integration of the devotee with the Divine, reached the height of ecstasy when the group joined in.
Moving in circles, the dancers with raised hands and quivering fingers attained perfect equilibrium with the accompanying symphony music, strokes of the rabab and the impassionate singing of ‘Tarasha Mandir, Masjid Tarasha, Tarsha Girja, Kahina Khuda Mila.
Apne Ander Jhaakey , Wohin Khuda Ka Basera.' Tanusree became emotional as did a section of the audience with the final ‘Pranasudha bahati.'
The harmonised and interpenetrating state of choreographic ecstasy emphasised the principal theme of unity as the dancers gradually moved closer forming a tight ring with the master choreographer at the centre. Certainly a production of pure optical beauty, sharpened by technique.
The organic approach was not really style. The cumulative development of the wonderful music composed by Debojyoti Mishra, musical sketches and serenades by Shubha Mudgal and Shafkat Amanat Ali, a magnificent Persian overture by Sukanya Ghosh, Arabian strings by Tapas Roy, Armenian pipes by Vachagan Tadevosyan, touching verse and vibes by Vaskar Chowdhury (Devnagari) and Jonaki Mukherjee (Urdu) and the costumes added to the unforgettable presentation.
Picture: DAZZLING: From We The Living. Photo: Special Arrangement.
Wednesday, June 06, 2012
The Internationalization of the Egyptian Election: While the presidential elections in Egypt are a significant and groundbreaking domestic issue, they are also subject to a web of foreign involvement and the conflicting interests of Middle Eastern powers.
The Gulf state of Qatar, home to al-Jazeera, has thrown its support and influence behind the Muslim Brotherhood and its candidate, Muhammad Mursi. The kingdom of Saudi Arabia has stood behind Dr. Abd al-Mun'im Abu al-Futuh who quit the Muslim Brotherhood and ran without its blessing. In addition, the Saudis sympathized with the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces favorite, Ahmad Shafiq, who previously served as prime minister under deposed president Husni Mubarak and who succeeded to reach the final round of elections alongside Mursi.
The Sunni states’ influence is countered by Iran’s domestic and external involvement in Egypt’s affairs. During the course of the presidential campaign, the Egyptian Army intercepted a weapons’ delivery smuggled into Egypt by Iranian agents. Politically, Iran has put its weight behind the Nasserite candidate, Hamdeen Subbahi, who was a surprising addition to the first round of elections, almost making it to the final round.
Each country’s support for its candidate in the election is the outcome of the power struggle between several religious streams within Islam. In addition to the Muslim Brotherhood, there exist two flourishing schools in Egypt: the Salafists and the Sufis. The two streams are characterized by polar opposite practices. While the Salafists adhere to an austere and abstract monotheistic creed, the Sufis venerate holy places and engage in ecstatic festivals and Dervish dances at holy graves.
Until recently, the Sufis refrained from entering politics. However, they were unable to resist the temptation offered by the altered political landscape in Egypt, in addition to responding to renewed attacks by the Salafists, who destroyed their holy graves and threatened Sufi assets. This led the Sufis into the open arms of Tehran, which is engaged in an attempt to convert the Egyptian public from Sunni to Shia. The struggle came to the fore a week before the election during an emergency meeting of Sunni scholars who convened in al-Azhar to counter the Shiaisation of Egypt, to which the Sufis were not invited.
The Sufis, in turn, reminded the Sunni sages that al-Azhar was established by the Shiite Fatimi dynasty that ruled Egypt in the Middle Ages.
The Sufis’ open support for Subbahi’s candidacy was a clear indication that he was Iran’s preferred candidate. Yet, whereas the outcome of the election remains to be determined, Sufi support for Subbahi came at the expense of the former favorite candidate Amru Musa who courted the Sufis but was ultimately rejected. While Musa attempted to add Iran as an observer during his tenure in the Arab League, Subbahi may have forged an alliance with Tehran through his connection to the Sufis. As a result, Musa lost not only solid domestic support but also the backing of foreign powers, leading to his downfall.
Musa’s outreach to the Sufis did not go unnoticed by the Saudis, who have harbored resentment against the candidate and his Nasserite rhetoric dating to his tenure as the secretary general of the Arab League.
Saudi Arabia perceives the Nasserite era, in which Egypt was actively subverting Arab regimes, as an unforgettable nightmare. The combination of Nasserite rhetoric and Musa’s possible connection to the Muslim Brotherhood could not go unnoticed in Riyadh.
In the past, the Saudis dried out Arab League budgets and empowered the Gulf Cooperation Council to contain the Nasserite secretary general. Accordingly, they will fight an elected president that will either come from the Brotherhood, like Mursi, or a Nasserite candidate elected by the Sufis such as Subbahi, who they perceive as another incarnation of Amru Musa.
The Saudi failure to first propel Omar Suleiman and then Abd al-Futuh to the presidency created a complex and problematic regional conundrum for the kingdom. As a result, it is now likely to support Shafiq’s campaign. Should he fail, the Saudis are unlikely to rush to rescue Egypt from oncoming bankruptcy. They will be content to leave the former Nasserite powerhouse to its political and economic woes.
[Picture: Celebrations in Tahrir Square after Omar Suleiman's statement announcing Hosni Mubarak's resignation. February 11, 2011. Photo: Wiki.]
Tuesday, June 05, 2012
Coke Studio Season: Putting together a variety of lyrical expressions, Coke Studio sets out to create a track that can be classified as a modern form of qawwali with a gradual build up to a crescendo end.
Qawwali traditionally borrows from various influences and verses. Atif Aslam in this season has merged Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s critically acclaimed Rabba Sacheya with Khuwaja Ghulam Farid’s universal love for God in Meda Ishq Vi Toon bringing together an interesting contrast. Rabba Sacheya is an example of Faiz’s expression of sorrow and anger for the suffering of humanity. It is a strong comment on religion and socialism where the writer is speaking to God, demanding better rights and more equality for all people.
The poem is a reflection of the shift in Faiz’s work from romance to realism – seen through his use of imagery – as he started using poetry as a tool for social comment and spreading awareness towards collective suffering. Musical treatment of the track flows with this form.
Originally he had performed Rabba Sacheya from his album Meri Kahani in 2008. ‘Larho Mujhey’ is one of Bilal Khan’s recent and un-released songs. The song was written and composed by Khan and talks of a sense of determination, willingness to fight for ones self and struggle to achieve his dreams.
Khan admits, “This song began as a rally for a personal cause. It was a pushback against the challenges, criticism, and the struggle; an artist consistently encounters both internally and externally. But after much tweaking of lyrics and many plays, the song became bigger than me. I think it easily manifests the spirit of our nation. Pakistan, though often disheartened and disillusioned, has a resilient, fiery spirit. This song tries to encompass and capture this stubborn resiliency. It’s all about accepting and embracing the struggle. And looking for a fight, a challenge.”
Musically the song borrows from various musical fields and comes to form a unique listening experience. Sufi poetry uses allegorical references to everyday life to communicate a deeper, spiritual meaning.
The song ‘Ishq Aap Bhe Awalla’ revolves around the life of a woman in love filling water from a well. The woman in the song is filling water but her focus is somewhere else and the words of the song are all the things she wants to say to her beloved.
Traditionally this song is performed at weddings. Coke Studio’s treatment encourages it to become a popular wedding song.
According to Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad the qawwali ‘Khabaram Raseeda’ was composed by their ancestors who are descendants of Mian Samat Ibrahim, a disciple of Amir Khusro.
The qawwali has been presented in Raag Bageshri and is a composition of a ghazal written by Amir Khusro. The ghazal expresses Sufi philosophy, using imagery of the worldly love for a beloved as a means of representing love for God.
Khusro writes that he just heard his beloved is coming to him and he is ready to lay down his life in wait for the arrival as he feels this dying man might be given new life with the anticipated union.
Coke Studio’s modal music treatment of the track renders new, previously unheard versions of qawwali. Written by legendary 18th century Sindhi poet, Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, ‘Pere Pavandi Saan’ tells the story of Sindhi folk heroin Sassi, who searches for her lost lover, Pannu, after he was taken away from her during their wedding night.
Sassi is from Bhambore where she married Pannu – a prince from Balochistan. After the wedding celebrations Pannu’s brothers intoxicated him and took him back to Balochistan while Sassi was asleep. When Sassi finds Pannu gone, she ran barefoot, across deserts to get to Ketch Makran in Balochistan and finds him.
The song illustrates Sassi’s anguish and her frantic search for her lost love after she wakes up and finds him gone. In the chorus of the song Sassi is begging Pannu’s brothers to let him stay with her in Bhambore for one night.
After a long journey when she is nearing his kingdom in Balochistan, tired, frantic and distressed, she asked God to protect her from the evils she met on her journey. God answered her prayers, the land shook and she was buried beneath.
Pannu woke up to find out he was back in his own land and, like Sassi, he ran out in search of his lost love. Pannu prayed to God to protect him and help him and God gave him the same fate as Sassi. The husband and wife still lie buried together.
Shah Latif’s poetry are the words of Sassi – her prayers and her longing – as she goes on her search to find Pannu.
Monday, June 04, 2012
Faith beyond religion
Pir Panjal area in Poonch district of India's northern state of Jammu and Kashmir is well known for amity between Hindus and Muslims. And the celebration of annual Urs of Sai Illai Baksha is a perfect example of this fact.
Every year devotees from different faiths come here in large numbers to pay obeisance to the saint.
Legend has it that the saint was a mystic who devoted his entire life for the betterment of mankind and preached communal harmony.
It is believed that wishes of the devotees who visit the mausoleum are fulfilled with the blessings of the Sufi saint.
[Click on the title of this article to a 2'45'' video of the Urs (ed.)]
Saturday, June 02, 2012
In the Realm of Spirituality: The negation of self and assertion of Divine is the only way to moral uprightness
Book: Allah-O-Akbar (God is Great).
Author: Syed Habib.
Publisher: Shifa Publications, Zabarwan.
Allah-O-Akbar is a self-published book by an erudite writer Syed Habib. The deep knowledge of the esteemed author about the realms of spirituality inform the book.
Syed Habib tries to find the answers of the questions which frequently perturb the truth seeker and he comes up with the sound answers quite magnificently. Not only this, each argument is supported outstandingly with the Quranic verses. The doctrine of Sufism is preached through the medium of Quran. Habib says:
Hazrat Junaid Baghdadi (God be pleased with him) who laid the foundations of mysticism or Sufism in Islam held that the ultimate concern of man is to enter the kingdom of God well-pleased and well-pleasing.
This return is achieved when the soul is at rest and is attended by all the spiritual blessings which in the Quran are metaphorically described as paradise. Some of these descriptions are: A garden whose width is that of the heavens and the earth.
[The Quran 89:27:30]
The general masses find Sufism a far-fetched concept. But Habib writes in simple words so that even a layman comprehends that Sufism is the essence of Islam. He doesn’t allow his discourse to fall in the quagmires of one-sided projection of mysticism but supplies us with the argumentation from western mystics like Louis Massingnon, Kenneth Cragg and so on.
The acknowledgement from the various mystics like Rabia Basra (RA), Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jeelani (RA), Mewlana Jallal Din Rumi (RA), Allama Iqbal (RA), Syed Hamadani (RA), Junaid Baghdadi (RA) and so on, is a delicious mystic feast. Besides, the splendid verses from renowned poets have blessed the book with an enigmatic lyricism.
As Habib strikes on the note of didactism in the book, the reader does not feel the want of escape from the drudgery of sermonizing but wants to listen and act because the advice is followed by a cool wisp of breeze which runs in the shape of couplet from Faiz Ahamd Faiz:
Greed has devoured all
The plaintiff, the jurist
The pleader, the judge
Where to go and why
To seek justice but how? 
The aesthetic dimension serves as the USP for the book. Almost all chapters begin with carefully chosen pieces of melodic verses. The chapter four “God man and the Spectacle” opens heralding the beauty of Divine which is taken from Yusuf and Zulaykha of Maulana Jami:
Each speck of matter did he constitute
A mirror, causing each one to reflect
The beauty of His visage. From the rose
Flashed forth His beauty and the nightingale
Beholding it, loved madly.[p. 118]
Again Habib Sahib astounds the reader with his minute observation which makes him to see Allah (SWT) in each and every spectacle of world as Blake saw it in a granule of sand. The Divine manifests Himself in almost all the dimensions of cosmos in the form of Beauty whether animate or inanimate. He establishes the affectionate bond of love between seeker and maker by addressing the former as lover and the latter as beloved.
"No one has power to assert ‘I’ unless it means standing upright and awareness to probe in order to expand in knowledgeability and consciousness".
The negation of self and assertion of Divine is the only way to moral uprightness and eternal bliss; this idea echoes throughout the book. The last chapter contains a message that Islam has placed woman respectfully in the society. It stresses that even in “modern jahiliyah”, female feticide is rampant and it is the need of the hour to understand that there had been great saints and mystics like Umm Haram, Rabia bint Ismail, Muadha al Adawiyya, Ishi Nili, Fakhr al-Nisa, Zainab Naisapuri, Aisha Bint Mohammad and so on.
The book ends at an instructive note:
"Those who love him [beloved Prophet] should follow his Sunnah and honour and revere womankind!"
Ms. Junaid Shabir is Research Scholar, English Department, Kashmir University